A mourning stamp for King George V


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11 December 2015
king_george_v_mourning_stamps-69582.png King George V mourning stamps
We look at a 1936 proposed issue with a charity surcharge, intended to mourn the passing of King George V

On 20 January 1936, King George V died. In recent years stamps have remembered Winston Churchill, Diana, Princess of Wales, and The Queen Mother. However, back in 1936, there was no British precedent for a memorial issue, although Germany had issued a stamp on the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934, and Belgium for Queen Astrid in December 1935.

A letter in The Times on 22 January suggested a mourning stamp, putting forward the idea of printing the 1½d definitive in black.

That same day the Director General of the Post Office wrote to the Postmaster General to say ‘The question of the issue of mourning stamps has been raised in the newspapers, but there is no precedent for this being done, and it might give rise to many practical difficulties.’ What ‘practical difficulties’ were envisaged is not stated. The correspondence in the press continued for three weeks, another suggestion being to print a black border around the 1½d definitive.

Following the King’s death it was decided that the King George V Jubilee Trust, to provide recreational facilities for the young, would be renamed the Memorial Fund.

King Edward VIII expressed the view that special 1½d stamps be produced, to be sold at 2d, the surplus going to the fund.

Despite his concerns of just three days earlier, the Director General, on 25 January, asked the stamp printers, Harrison and Sons, to produce designs as soon as possible. The company responded immediately and over the next few days produced a series of essays, many of the designs being the work of two staff artists, HL Palmer and a Mr Baxter.

Essays produced
These essays fall into two groups. The first comprised the 1½d definitive printed in black or violet.

The second was based on the 1½d definitive but using a portrait of King George V by the photographer Carl Vandyk instead of that by Bertram Mackennal.

The inscription ‘THREE HALFPENCE’ on the definitive was replaced by ‘IN MEMORY’, the essays being produced in red-brown or various shades of grey.

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These latter essays were subsequently amended by having a border of rosemary around the portrait to resemble a wreath. Other essays exist including the 1½d definitives printed in two colours (red-brown on dark grey; red-brown on violet; violet on dark grey), and 1½d definitives overprinted ‘KING GEORGE V MEMORIAL’.

When King George V had proposed a surcharge on the British Empire Exhibition stamps in 1924 for the Hospital Fund, the idea was rejected. However, now the surcharge idea was felt acceptable.

A meeting of the King George V Jubilee Trust was held on 5 February and was shown the essays produced by Harrisons. A packet containing 18 essays was subsequently shown to King Edward VIII who found none of the designs acceptable. Harrisons was asked to produce further essays for the Trust’s next meeting on 12 March: at this meeting a separate committee was formed to put into effect the Memorial Fund. It is believed this committee decided not to take the stamp idea any further, and Harrisons stopped work on the project on 20 March.

While many of the essays are held at The Postal Museum (previously the British Postal Museum and Archive), mystery surrounds some of the eighteen essays that were seen by King Edward VIII. It is believed these were passed to the Jubilee Trust, as nine were subsequently traced (one or two have been reported as mounted on Trust notepaper), but it is thought the rest were destroyed.

Images courtesy of the British Postal Museum & Archive, copyright Royal Mail.

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